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Principle 13: Product Service Systems
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While many things about living a sustainable lifestyle have changed since the early days of environmentalism, it's been true all along that the best way to buy green is to buy nothing. Even with the current upsurge in "eco-friendly" consumer goods, the lightest impact we can have as consumers is to consume less, buy less, and use less. The obvious argument against the whole idea, of course, is that to live a comfortable life, we all need things, and this whole "buy nothing" attitude is just guilt-making and impossible. Yet when it comes down to it, in many cases what we really want is the service those things provide, not the things themselves. If we could have the resulting conveniences that all our possessions afford us without owning them ourselves, would our lives be as comfortable and easy? Service designers say yes.

Service designers create product service systems, which are a way to facilitate access to everyday conveniences through organized sharing, while maintaining (or even elevating) our quality of life. The classic example of this, which we reference frequently, is car-sharing. The concept has been around for decades, but recently, it was hugely inconvenient and inefficient. Technology has revolutionized the car-sharing experience by allowing a person to instantaneously locate a car, unlock it and drive away with nothing but a cell phone and a swipe card. We get the personal mobility without the annoyances of car ownership, and by participating in a car-sharing service, we help to remove up to twenty passenger cars from the road. In effect, you dematerialize the car, getting the ride without the hunk of metal and gallons of oil. This is important because while it might seem surprising, almost half of energy a car uses in its lifetime goes to manufacturing and disposal, meaning that no matter how hard we try to drive less, if we own a car, much of the energy is sucks up has already been spent.

Product service systems are now being designed to address many other needs. In urban areas, they make dense living in compact spaces more pleasant by requiring less stuff to live a comfortable life. In addition, sharing systems encourage people to get acquainted with their neighbors and larger community, which increases safety and livability. Some service designers envision a world where people will lust after services the way they currently lust after consumer goods -- what London design crew Live/Work calls "service envy." It such a shift in attitudes can really happen, we'll be that much closer to transforming our material world.

Product-Service Scenarios for the Bright Green City

Live/Work: Designing Services for Sustainability (Or Why You Really Don't Need a New Drill)

Use Community: Smaller Footprints, Cooler Stuff and More Cash

Service Envy: Branding Experience Instead of Stuff

What Netflix Tells Us About a Bright Green Future

Wir Hier: Intelligent Service Systems

Digital Wellbeing and Deglamorizing Choice

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Comments

The term "car sharing" is overloaded to mean different things ... the meaning in the article is "sharing the physical chunk of metal" whereas I tend to think of it as meaning "sharing a trip". I guess the former is a good stepping stone to the latter.


Posted by: Mike Hearn on 22 May 07

It would be good to provide a reference to document that about half the energy a car uses is embodied in its manufacture. If a typical car is driven 150,000 miles (242,000 km) during its life, and if its average fuel economy is 33 miles per gallon (7.2 liters/100 km), then it will consume about 4545 gallons (about 17,300 liters) of fuel in its life. If that fuel is regular gasoline, that's 768,120 million joules, or about 568.125 million Btu. According to a 1998 study by the Institute for Life Cycle Environmental Assessment at Carnegie Mellon University, an automobile used 878,132 Megajoules for fuel, 105,207 MJ for fuel cycle (procurement, refining, etc.), 39,321 MJ for service, 14,653 MJ for administration, registration and insurance, and 119,755 MJ for manufacture.

According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, energy used to manufacture automobiles has increased in the past decade, because of increasing use of plastics and aluminum, but this has been more than offset by increased fuel economy due to these lighter materials. Yet fuel use still dwarfs other energy embodied in automobiles.

This isn't to dispute the vital major point in the article, but it's important to keep our facts straight.


Posted by: David Foley on 22 May 07

It really is important to keep those facts straight - when you start claiming that half the energy cost of an automobile is in its manufacture, transit (especially electric rail transit) suddenly appears to be a marginally better alternative - when it's actually generally an order of magnitude more efficient.


Posted by: Ben Schiendelman on 22 May 07

It really is important to keep those facts straight - when you start claiming that half the energy cost of an automobile is in its manufacture, transit (especially electric rail transit) suddenly appears to be a marginally better alternative - when it's actually generally an order of magnitude more efficient.

Energy intensity of select passenger modes, US, 2003 (BTU per passenger-mile):

Cars = 3,549
Personal trucks = 4,008
Commercial air = 3,587
Transit buses = 4,160
Rail transit (light & heavy) = 3,228

http://cta.ornl.gov/data/tedb25/Edition25_Chapter02.pdf


Posted by: pt on 22 May 07

It really is important to keep those facts straight - when you start claiming that half the energy cost of an automobile is in its manufacture, transit (especially electric rail transit) suddenly appears to be a marginally better alternative - when it's actually generally an order of magnitude more efficient.

Transit in the US is oftentimes less efficient per passenger-mile than things like automobiles.


Posted by: pt on 23 May 07

I seriously wonder about that manufacturing statistic. I mean, are they counting the energy cost of mining/ synthesizing the raw materials, transporting them to the plant, (cleaning up the pollution?), and that kind of deal? Are they counting the energy used by the operations of the management of the company? Those lear jets add up! Are they counting the external costs?

Does someone have a real, all-included number? 119,755 MJ for manufacture seems incredible (as in not believeable) low.

I don't know about the .5 figure, but it's almost certainly much bigger than 120K MJ, I'd bet you.

Come now, one of you guys has this data for real. Educate us numbskulls!


Posted by: James on 23 May 07

Product Service System is also the basis for SocialWay - a website that enables people to lend and borrow stuff. Any stuff - books, DVDs, games, tools, toys, electronics - can be shared for free in communities. SocialWay also shows the personal and community savings of CO2 as a result of sharing rather than buying as the 'SocialWay Rootprint'. (Incidentally, it uses the Environment Life-Cycle Assessment model from Carnegie-Mellon University).

PSS becomes all the more relevant for sustainability when you consider that personal emissions - the ones from home energy use and driving that we are directly responsible for - account for just 40% of our total carbon footprint. The larger part comes indirectly from everything else we buy and do. (Source:NRDC) Just a book has the carbon footprint of a gallon of gasoline (that's 19 lbs.)! If just 0.25% of all books sold annually in US were borrowed rather than bought, it would equal taking 750,000 cars off the road!


Posted by: Nita Goyal on 28 May 07



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